PUBLIC RADIO INTERNATIONAL’s radio news magazine “The World” has been sending out a heavy dose of incredible, driveway-moment music segments over the last week or so. Yesterday we traveled to Fez to listen the Arab poetry that inspired oud player, Dahfed Youssef; today, this from the Australian group, The Bamboos. The beat alone will tail you — guaranteed. But it’s King Merc’s voice that makes it both strangely retro and timeless.
The video, ah, she is stylish . . .
Little backstory on Merc:
King Merc first came to the attention of Bamboos producer Lance Ferguson during the heady Australian summer of 2009; an after-hours bar in the infamous Kings Cross district became the location for a random meeting that was fuelled as much by rum and karaoke as it was by the semi-tropical night air itself. After delivering a particularly idiosyncratic rendition of “Walk On By”, Ferguson took his seat to the jeers of the Bamboos members still left standing after the show. The DJ put on a ’60s soul tune with a haunting vocal. In fact, a really KILLER vocal. Turning to the decks and the source of that soulful timbre, Ferguson was amazed to see it was in fact emanating from a frail-looking elderly Polynesian man. Closer inspection revealed that this man was much younger than originally thought but one could tell he had clearly lived it ‘hard’. The dulcet warm tones that took flight from his vocal chords spoke of years of heartache, anguish and pure raw soul feeling. After being invited to the Bamboos table for the obligatory Cuba Libre, fragments of the true story were revealed:
He called himself ‘King Merc’. He was from the Pacific Island of Tonga. He had been falsely imprisoned for 20 years during the first Fijian Coup when it was implicated he was involved with a group of mercenaries or ‘soldiers of fortune’. Banished to a remote Pacific prison island stockade, he had spent the majority of his incarceration through the ’80s and ’90s singing in the prison church but was captivated and seemingly obsessed with the one vinyl record that existed within this prison in paradise: a beaten up and scratched but still playable Al Green album called ‘I’m Still In Love With You’. 20 years in isolation with one record. A true desert island disc!
More here about the band and the meet up: